BRIAN SCIARETTA - Thursday, January 3, 2013
With the Russian Premier League now winter break, American forward Eugene Starikov is hoping to continue to establish himself with Rostov when the season resumes.
Starikov, 24, has had an up and down year in 2012 as his loan from Zenit to Tom Tomsk ended and injuries kept him off the field for long stretches of time.
In September, Zenit sent him on loan again for the entire 2012/13 season to fellow Russian Premier League club Rostov. As he regained his fitness and was healthy, he began to make the gameday rosters for Rostov and made three appearances in the games just prior to winter break.
As it currently stands, Rostov sits in 11th place in the Premier League with 20 points through 19 games. They are four points clear of safety and trail 10th place Krasnodar by eight points.
Now healthy, Starikov is ready to move his career forward in 2013 when the Premier League returns to action on March 8th.
"It was a frustrating year for me, unfortunately," Starikov told YA. "I had a lot of injuries all throughout the year which really restrained me from performing at a high level. But there is a saying in Russian: everything that happens, happens for something better. So I'm just continuing to work hard and believe that everything will come."
Starikov was born Odessa, Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union but grew up in California where he was a standout player for the Irvine Strikers and Palm Harbor University High School. He played NCAA soccer in Florida with Stetson University for two years before signing with Zenit in 2009 where he played for their youth teams.
In 2010, Zenit loaned to Siberian-based Russian Premier League club Tom Tomsk where he saw regular playing time through the end of his loan at the end of 2011.
"Overall, my 2 years at Tomsk were great," Starikov recalled. "I debuted in the RPL, scored my first goal in the RPL and had some great wins over big teams. Of course, looking back, there are certain games and certain chances I had, that I know I could have finished those chances but I understand I just need to keep working hard and everything will come. I gained a lot of game experience while at Tomsk, so I can definitely say that I am a different player in terms of my confidence, awareness and poise on the field."
Now having been at Rostov for three months, Starikov believes that his adjustment to his new club has gone well both on and off the field. For one, he now out of frigid Siberia and in a warmer area of the country. More importantly, however, he is now on a club where he believes that he can score and contribute.
Starikov insists that he is not thinking much about Zenit who currently own his contract. Instead his goal is to perform for Rostov knowing that if he is successful on his loan, he could force his way back onto the powerful Russian club.
"It was a really easy adjustment for me coming to Rostov," Starikov discussed. "First of all the climate, Rostov is in the Southern part of Russia so it's really warm there in the summer and not all that cold in the winter - which is what I love, the heat. As for the team, I felt no problems between me and the coaching staff, players and management. I knew a few guys on the team from previous clubs so that made it a lot easier. My main goal as always is to be playing. I have to play in order to show myself as well as get better and gain experience. Along with that, of course, I need to score goals. As for Zenit, all I can do is prove myself at Rostov with my game on the field and then it's up to [Zenit's] management."
Aside from Zenit and Rostov, Starikov also has not lost sight of the international stage as well. In 2010, he was called up to the US national team by former head coach Bob Bradley for the annual January camp. While he did not play in the game against Chile, it was the first time Starikov has ever been involved in an international setup at any level.
The Russian Premier League is one of the faster growing and stronger leagues in Europe and Starikov is confident that with an improved 2013, he can catch the eye of US national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and make his way back onto the team for possibly his first ever cap.
"I hope to be called back to the National Team, of course," Starikov concluded. "I know that I need to be playing and scoring goals in order to be called on. Its a new year so I plan on coming back into the new season with fresh strength and it's all up to me how I perform this second part of the season. As for how I feel, I feel confident and ready for a great year."
Starikov and Rostov return to action in the Russian Premier League on March 8 when they visit 15th place Alaniya.